Shadows do a lot of things. And not all of it is bad.
Most people think of what I’ll call the “evil” part of shadows. They hide things. Obscure the truth. Bad guys lurk in shadows. Innocent people get mugged in shadowy alleys. The scary glowing eyes always come out of a shadow. When a horror flick wants to alert you that something bad is afoot – shadow.
And it’s true. Shadows are great places to hide – people, things or facts. Want to lead your reader down the garden path? Stick in some shadows. Not just the physical kind, either. Words can cast shadows, too. Because in a shadow, there’s just enough light to see that something is there – just not exactly what.
It’s that unknown factor that is creepy. Once you shine a light, the shadow is gone. What is hidden is revealed. It might be bad, but at least you know what’s coming. The mystery is revealed. Really – would a brightly lit horror flick be as scary? Probably not.
But shadows aren’t only hiding places. Shadows soften things. My daughter is an artist. When she wants to make a gentler picture, she uses shadows. The main action might be bright color, but the depth comes out in those tones of gray. She does it with makeup. When she wants to make her cheekbones stand out, she shades the hollows of her cheeks. Subtle. Barely noticeable. But it gives a depth to her face, a depth that is most remarkable when you don’t see it.
It’s the same with fiction. Readers complain about cardboard characters. People who are more like caricatures, than living, breathing humans. A lot of times it’s because these characters have no depth; no shadows are there to soften the harsh planes, or bring out the light. I’m not talking about physical light. Earlier this week, Kait talked about backstory. Backstory gives depth, reality.
Backstory gives shadow.
For every light, there is a dark. Life is full of contrasts. As humans, as artists, as writers: we shouldn’t fear the shadows.
The shadows are what keep it interesting.
Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73